Nigeria’s children and the future
A video went viral last week showing an endless and shocking column of children. They were ill-clad and unkempt. Some were carrying bowls, some were not.
In the nature of children, as children must be children, and will always be children, they were captured running up and down unconscious of their condition and of their future and the future of our country. A man’s mind would have to be turned into a heart of stone not to be touched by the cruel sight. They were not refugees nor were they Internally Displayed Persons (IDPs). Their parents sat in equally long rows carrying their bowls, begging.
My mind then raced to the often quoted UNICEF survey which reveals that Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world, putting it at 13.2 million. Out of the population 11million are in the North, the situation partly by the Boko Haram insurgency. With the pervading insecurity in the North West, the figure would have gone higher. The survey at the time covered mostly the war-torn North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Adamawa. The sight under consideration gives a convincing hint that Nigeria has a very serious problem in its hands. The column is just one street in a city. There are certainly many streets in it. Then consider the number of towns or cities that have such sprawling children and their columns lining them.
In 2016, on the occasion of Children’s Day, May 27, President Buhari said: “On this happy occasion for our children, I reaffirm my belief that it is the right of every Nigerian child to have access to quality and affordable education, as well as healthcare and other basic necessities for a good life, in a peaceful and secure environment. The good health and well-being of Nigerian children are a top priority on our agenda for national development and we have demonstrated our strong commitment in this regard with the allocation of N12.6 billion in the 2016 budget for vaccines and programmes to prevent childhood killer diseases such as polio, measles and yellow fever.” He went on: “Other measures in the 2016 budget, such as the school feeding programme for children at a cost of N93.1 billion, will ensure that more children go to school and enjoy the fun of learning and growing up with their peers. Despite the current economic and funding facing our dear nation, my administration will continue to do all within its powers to achieve better living conditions and greater access to quality healthcare and education for all our youth.” That was only two days to the first anniversary of his administration.
In June last year, the President renewed his pledge to ensure that every Nigerian child has access to quality and affordable education by “promoting free and compulsory basic education for the first nine years of schooling.” That was on the occasion of the Day of the African Child. He went on to again give the assurance that the safety of every child was unassailably crucial to his administration, to protect them from violence and abuse. And this year, Buhari describing children as precious blessings who should be nurtured for the burden of the future, said our legacy is to give you a better country.”
Every year, every state governor makes the same pledge to see to the welfare of the children. When the children out of school forming colonies of beggars grow up and are told of the unfulfilled pledges it will be putting it mildly if we say they laugh the pronouncement to scorn. According to World Health Organization (WHO) violence against children includes emotional abuse and neglect. How our political leaders are able to sleep surrounded by children barely attired and without meals. It was in this same environment early last year Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan sponsored mass marriages of 300 couples. Qualification for sponsorship: “…intending couple is of marriageable age and with nobody or means at all to finance their weddings” according to special assistant (Press) who issued a statement on the weddings which according to him, also included empowerment! You would have thought that a man of that political and educational as well as exposure would see education, education and education, the building of schools for his constituents as his priority and focus. The humongous amount spent was unconfirmed; as such I am not letting out any figure. Little wonder, irrepressible and outspoken former Governor of Central Bank and deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, facing a gathering of the Northern Establishment in Kaduna, said: “We are fighting culture and we are fighting civilisation. For us to address social policy we have to reclaim our religion.” He criticised what he called “the ultra-conservatism in some parts of the Northern Nigeria that has discouraged girl-child education, family planning and other progressive policies.” He spoke about giving birth to children for whom there were no plans of taking up any responsibility.
The first-ever WHO Global Plan of Action was endorsed by World Health Assembly in 2016. The plan aimed at “strengthening the role of the health system within a national multi-sectoral response to address interpersonal violence in particular against women and girls, and children,” And working in collaboration with member states, WHO is committed to following up on the global magnitude and noting the characteristics of violence against them as well as supporting the country efforts to document and measure such violence. It is also to regularly publish global status reports and a country’s efforts at addressing and containing assaults against children through national policies and action plans, laws and prevention programmes.
In 1989, seventy-one heads of state and heads of government –as a matter of fact, 35 of them were Presidents—and more than 70 observer delegates met what they called “World Summit for Children to undertake a joint commitment and to make an urgent appeal—to give every child a better future.” They argued: “The children of the world are innocent, vulnerable and dependent. They are also curious and full of hope. Their time should be one of joy and peace, of playing, learning and growing. Their future should be shaped in harmony and co-operation. Their lives should mature as they broaden their perspectives and gain new experiences. Each day countless children around the world are exposed to dangers and hamper their growth and development. They suffer immensely as casualties of war and violence; as victims of racial discrimination, apartheid; aggression, foreign occupation and annexation; as refugees and displaced children, forced to abandon their homes and their roots; as disabled; or as victims of neglect and exploitation.” This was the situation as far back as 1989. The declaration ends with the saying: “There can be no task nobler than giving every child a better future. Indeed, providing every child a bright future is a worthy task deserving of support. The task has assumed added dimension in objective and commitment coming as it did from the movers and shakers of world communities, as they say.
The conditions in which children are born and in which they live cannot but continue to elicit worldwide interest and provoke debate, especially for us in Nigeria. The world leaders said at the time: “The World Summit for Children has presented us with a challenge to take action.” To achieve the lofty goals will require the world to re-examine old assumptions. Solutions to societal problems have not been found from these assumptions, notions and settled concepts. Some of the notions were founded on partial pictures of the particular events and the agents of the events.
Next week: Going forward and where lies the future of Nigerian children.